In low spirits but not complaining

It’s always difficult to find a suitable opening sentence for a blog post, especially if I need to pour out my heart. Although the title usually unveils my plans and the topic in advance, I can’t simply get to the point straight away. So these are my introductory words for today’s post:

I passionately love my job.
 

I’ve been a teacher for 20 years and I confess I’ve never done anything else (apart from a few temporary or part-time jobs ages ago). It won’t be a surprise if I say that I don’t dream of doing something different than teaching English – neither in the near nor the distant future. I suppose that’s how many EFL teachers feel, at least those I’ve had the opportunity to encounter online or offline.

The thing is that presently the situation in the Czech Republic is not ideal as far as ELT jobs (or any teaching jobs) are concerned. I should stress that I don’t live in a rural village but in a town with a population of about 17,000 people. There are three primary schools locally. The secondary school where I work is currently educating about 400 students. There are seven English teachers employed full-time, one English teacher who can’t teach English, even though she would love to (there are no more lessons available). One of the seven teachers is (luckily) planning to start her maternity leave soon, which means more lessons for the rest of us next year. Yet, two more teachers will be made redundant due to the lack of students (hopefully not any English teachers). This is a worrying situation, in spite of the fact that there are some freelance job opportunities. But even these are becoming rarer.

Some days, when in low spirits, my close friend and colleague (female, single, childless, now in her 30s) seriously contemplates going abroad some day and she hopes she could teach English there. I’ve had to warn her, though. Even before reading Vedrana Vojkovic’s or Ana Elisa Miranda’s posts I was aware of the fact that being a fully qualified English teacher here in the Czech Republic doesn’t necessarily mean that you will be regarded qualified abroad. What is worse, non-native speakers have a minuscule chance to do the job they’ve been trained to do outside their native country, even if they have a vast experience in teaching – their applications won’t even be considered in most cases.

Another misfortune affecting teachers all over the country is the fact that many of them are considered unqualified, even though several years ago their qualification was fully sufficient. This is due to some recent education law changes. I find it really unfair that now, with the surplus of teachers, we are treated almost dismissively. I can still remember the days (about 10-15 years ago) when school principals were stopping me in the street offering me a job, which I had to keep refusing. I wasn’t fully qualified back then but apparently it didn’t matter – they desperately needed someone with some knowledge of English. At that time a lot of under-qualified English teachers were hired and cherished, to be later sternly asked to leave due to their insufficient qualification. Some argue that since then those teachers have undoubtedly had plenty of time to complete their education, but in effect many of them have meanwhile become busy parents who have to support their families. And while they might have had plenty of time, they might not have had plenty of opportunities – not all universities offer the right courses one needs to complete the qualification.

I was lucky; I got my MA degree two years ago, just in the nick of time – right before the proposed legal changes were about to get into motion. But even then I had to self fund my studies and beg and plead for days off work to be able to sit my exams (even our students normally get a day off when they are preparing for a regional competition, for example). Not to mention that I had to commute 100 km every week to attend the lessons, which obviously cost me a fortune. But I’m not complaining. It was worth it and I learnt a lot.

Nowadays I attend conferences, which I self fund as well, and I do everything in my power to become a better teacher. I listen to teachers from all over the world and hear that they face similar problems and joys (this is a post by @swanDOS, for example).

Finally, on a more materialistic note. They say I should never speak about the money I earn (because some might feel envious). Nonetheless, a teacher’s average salary over here is 650 euros a month (this is not an official statistic; it’s reality). I’m not complaining – I passionately love my job and I’m grateful for the opportunity to be there in the classroom every day. But I think at least I deserve some respect for what I do and for what I’ve been through. 
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About Hana Tichá

I'm an EFL teacher based in the Czech Republic. I've been teaching English to learners of all ages for more than 20 years. I love metaphors and inspiring discussions concerning teaching, learning and linguistics.
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6 Responses to In low spirits but not complaining

  1. Dear Hana: How can I not understand you and share your feelings??!!! The same is happening here although not many teachers are made redundant, until now… After being in the US, my comeback was VERY disappointing, you know that if you read my post. I had no recognition anywhere I went, I mean, everybody was amazed at the fact that we lived, I taught, my husband, my son is bilingual, my daughter is American…you may know the story. Same salary as anybody in my school, where I have been working since 1987 (you do the Math ;). I obviously do not talk about my salary either which is lower than ever as I am not working “full time”. Full time teaching jobs do not exist here, unless you work 8 hours a day the five days of the week at many …MANY places. How about commuting in this “beautiful” Buenos Aires. Traveling here is like a ride to H.
    Did I comfort you tonight, dear Hana? The only ones who kept me going were YOU ALL!! I do mean it! The only ones who appreciated my dedication, work, and experience were you all!.

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  2. venvve says:

    Hi Hana,
    It's very interesting to read a little more about the context you teach in and the challenges (Czech) English teachers face in the Czech Republic. The salaries are not that different from those in the public sector in Croatia. Everyone always says that you don't go into teaching if you want to make money, but before 2009, at least in the private sector, if you worked hard, there was reasonable financial compensation. But now, if anything, things are even worse in the private than in the public sector.
    The thing is, we (and by this I mean my generation of educators) are at the stage where we've worked hard for years and accumulated some experience in the process, so it is very tough to deal with having to work harder and earn less than we did in our twenties!
    But I think you're right not to be complaining because being part of an international community of supportive teachers can be wonderfully motivating (the point Fabiana makes in her comment). Even if it doesn't pay the bills. 🙂

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  3. mc says:

    It never ceases to amaze me how teachers put up with awful contracts, low pay and poor work conditions in order to do what they love: teach! I think we can all relate and share similar horror stories. I worked in language academies for years here in Spain before I got fed up with being exploited. Not all academies are the same, but many take advantage of their foreign workers (I'm American), contracting them for four hours a week when they're really teaching 30 hours. I remember at one school we earned around 7€ per hour of teaching. That meant that holidays and sick days were more like punishments because you weren't paid. Qualified teachers with degrees and experience were making less per hour than the cleaning staff at the same academy. After years of enduring awful pay and conditions, a friend and I decided to become self-employed and start our own program. It's a lot of work (hours of administrative paperwork on top of everything else) but we run the show. I enjoy the freedom we have now to organize our program and classes the way we want to and we don't have to put up with horrible work conditions. Who knows how long the program will last (many years I hope!) but for the moment I've found my niche. I hope you're able to find yours as well. Micaela

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  4. Hana Tichá says:

    Exactly Fabiana. I sometimes feel that the people who support and respect me most are the educators I've met online. And I think that's the main reason why we want to connect with others. We desperately need some kindred spirits who we can share our deepest feelings with. Yes, we have our colleagues but the danger is that we tend to be negative at times (about all the trouble we go through together), and this negativism can be contagious and only spreads on.
    Poor Fabiana, I can imagine the collision with reality you experienced when you came back from the States. It must have been really frustrating. No wonder that so many teachers decide to do something different if they have an opportunity, for example teacher training, which, I believe, can be more rewarding (and recognized – at least by those the trainer is working with).
    So let's cheer each other up whenever we can!

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  5. Hana Tichá says:

    Thanks for your comment and your inspiring post, Vedrana. I thought it was high time to reveal what things are really like. Most of the time we are enthusiastic about all the wonderful things we do in the classroom but we have our fears and frustrations as well. It's good to know that we are understood by people living in totally different environments.
    I used to work in the private sector for 10 years but as you say, things were different before 2009 or so. One would expect the salaries to rise with time but the truth is that they don't. But that's not the worst of all. What I find unfair is that teachers don't feel safe. On the contrary – they feel insecure and threatened. If a surgeon feels insecure, they will do a bad job and the same happens to a permanently frustrated teacher. We work with humans and the way we feel matters. But it seems that we'll survive anything – we've already found our own effective therapy 🙂

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  6. Hana Tichá says:

    Dear Micaela,
    At first I thought I was reading a horror story but then I realized you were sharing your experience. I'm an optimist so I will look on the bright side of this – in comparison with what you’ve just described, things are not as bad as they seem to be over here. If I were a pessimist, though, I would realize how far things can get. The fact is that things will only get as far as you let them get. Easier said than done. Teachers often get trapped and they are grateful for anything (secretly expecting that more will come soon). But nothing comes and they are being exploited because those who want to exploit them can sense their fear.
    I'm glad you've found a way out of this trap. You didn’t let things get any further. Good luck!

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